While WrestleMania may be the most popular WWE pay-per-view, the Royal Rumble is a close second. The event usually features titles matches like most other pay-per-views, but it's the 30-man over the top battle royal that makes the event a must see. The 2017 Royal Rumble is set to take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. It was at the Alamodome twenty years ago that the original Royal Rumble attendance record was set. You can probably expect a new attendance record to be set this time as well.
The last couple of Royal Rumbles have been fairly anti-climatic with the winners being obvious choices. If the WWE wants to buck the trend of the recent disappointing Rumble finishes, they need to be careful in who they pick to win the whole thing.
While the Royal Rumble match is known for having surprise entrants from the WWE's past, these surprise entrants are rarely serious contenders to win the match. A recent example of a surprise entrant was Diamond Dallas Page, who gave out a couple of Diamond Cutters, before being quickly eliminated. If the WWE really wants to make a big splash, they need to bring back returning wrestlers who actually have a realistic shot of winning it.
Here are 15 returning WWE Superstars who could win the 2017 Royal Rumble.
15 Mr. Kennedy
Mr.Kennedy's first run in the WWE looked very promising, but for an assortment of problems, things just did not work out for him. Upon entering the WWE, Kennedy was given a fairly big push, winning the Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 23. However, Kennedy was never able to cash it in for a title shot because he suffered a serious tricep injury. Once Kennedy came back from injury, he was placed in a high profile feud with Shawn Michaels. While the feud went as planned, it wasn't too long after that Kennedy once again found himself on the sidelines with an injury. His many injuries, plus his rough in-ring performance led to his release by the company in 2009.
Since leaving the WWE, Kennedy has spent the past seven years wrestling for TNA. Fortunately, he hasn't had any major injury issues in recent years. Kennedy is also no longer contracted to TNA so it makes it a perfect time for a WWE return. It's highly likely that if Kennedy had not been so injury plagued during his tenure with the WWE, he would have eventually been a WWE Champion. While the odds of him winning a Royal Rumble at this stage in his career are pretty slim, it would still be neat to see him back in a WWE ring.
MVP came into the WWE with a ton of hype in 2006 as the supposed most coveted free agent. While he did compete in some fairly significant matches, most notably competing against Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 23, he was mainly used in an upper mid-card role. MVP was released from his contract in 2010, and he decided to head to Japan after that. It was in Japan that MVP started to be treated like somebody important. After Japan, MVP went to TNA where he was once again given a prominent role with the company.
In 2016, rumors started to emerge about MVP's possible return to the WWE. However, MVP apparently declined the opportunity to return as he felt the WWE was taking his talent for granted. In other words, he still believes he can be more than a nostalgic act. If you watch some of MVP's recent matches in TNA, you can tell he still has what it takes to compete with the best of them. Although winning the Royal Rumble would be a tall task for MVP, he has quite given up on the dream of one day being a WWE Champion.
13 John Morrison
John Morrison's initial run with the WWE lasted nearly a decade. He first broke in as a competitor on Tough Enough in 2002 and would stay with the company until 2011. In that time Morrison built up an impressive championship resume. He is a five-time Tag Team Champion, three-time Intercontinental Champion, and a one-time ECW Champion. If Morrison returns at the Royal Rumble, you can bet he will looking to add more championships his resume.
Since leaving the WWE, Morrison has gone on to wrestle for both Lucha Underground and AAA. While he was rarely in the main event picture in the WWE, Morrison has been at the top of the card everywhere else he has been since. If he does comeback to the WWE, he has proven he can handle being a top guy. While winning the Royal Rumble might be a bit of stretch, he wouldn't be the WWE's worst option.
12 Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin was originally supposed to make his return to the WWE this past Summer as a member of the SmackDown brand. However, while undergoing a physical for the WWE, it was revealed that he had a torn rotator cuff. The injury required surgery and his rehab is expected to take anywhere from six months to a year. That recovery time fits in perfectly for a Royal Rumble appearance. There is no doubt the fans would love seeing Benjamin back at the Rumble. Most fans probably wouldn't have any problem with him winning it either, but the WWE brass probably has different ideas. While Benjamin got a decent push during his initial run with the WWE, winning the Intercontinental and U.S titles, he was never a main event guy. Even the age of 41, Benjamin can still wrestle with the best of them. It might finally be the time for "The Golden Standard" to get the big push he always deserved.
11 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio left the WWE in 2015 after a thirteen year run with the company. Like many other wrestlers on this list, there have been rumors about Mysterio's return to the WWE, almost from the moment he left the company. The rumors aren't so far fetched because if Mysterio wants to make the most money for the least amount of work, the WWE is by far his best option.
While fans would definitely love to see him make a surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble, him winning the whole thing is a different story. Mysterio did win the Royal Rumble back in 2006, but the past decade has not been too kind to his body. At this point in his career, Mysterio is more suited for the new Cruiserweight Division then he is for the main event at WrestleMania. Although, if he does pull off another underdog Rumble win, there could worse options than Mysterio winning.
10 Matt Hardy
When Matt Hardy was last with the WWE in 2010, he was by far the least popular of the Hardy brothers. Now in 2016, Matt is giving his brother Jeff a run for his money in terms of popularity. Matt's recent success is due to the fact his character got a complete overhaul in TNA. He is now known as Broken Matt Hardy, and it's such a bizarre gimmick that it needs to been seen to be believed. The question is would the WWE fans be receptive to Matt's new character? We will just have to wait and see.
If you asked most wrestling fans ten years ago if they thought Matt Hardy was a realistic contender to win a Royal Rumble match, they would say "Not a chance." However, in the last couple of years, Matt has proven he is capable of being a main eventer. He even has two TNA World Heavyweight Championships to his name. A title match at WrestleMania may seem like a bit of a fantasy, but with the way Matt has performed in recent years, he would definitely be deserving of a big time match in the WWE.
9 CM Punk
CM Punk would have been higher on this list had the chance of him actually making a return to the WWE not been so low. Depending on who you ask, Punk quit/got fired from the WWE in 2014. They did not part ways on good terms to say the least. After leaving the WWE, Punk surprised almost everybody when he announced he was starting an MMA career with the UFC. After what seemed like another lifetime, Punk finally made his debut at UFC 203 in September of 2016. He ended up getting annihilated by his opponent and he was forced to submit early in the first round.
While Punk's debut may not have been successful in the octagon, he still made the company a ton money with pay-per-view buys. If Punk wasn't as popular as he was, he would have been done with the UFC after his pathetic debut fight. Punk should get at least one more fight in the UFC.
Besides Punk's fledgling MMA career, his sour relationship with the WWE is going stop him from making an appearance at the Royal Rumble. If Punk did make his return, when his entrance music hit, there would surely be a few jaws hitting the floor. A CM Punk appearance at the Rumble would probably be one of the most shocking moments in WWE history, but never say never in the world of professional wrestling.
8 Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley's first run in the WWE didn't end so graciously. At the time of his release, he was being pushed as one of the top guys in the WWE. However, Lashley was having a hard time getting along with the creative team, especially Michael Hayes, who has a reputation of being a bit of a racist. The WWE and Lashley agreed to mutually part ways in February of 2008.
Since leaving the WWE, Lashley has dabbled in MMA, but has mostly stuck with professional wrestling. Since 2014, he has competed for TNA where he is a three-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion. While Lashley may have gotten older since he last appeared in the WWE, he has become a more rounded performer. Not only has his wrestling skills improved, but so have his mic skills. Off all the wrestlers on this list, Bobby Lashley is probably the most legitimate threat to win the Royal Rumble if he enters. When he left the WWE he was a main event wrestler, there is no reason why he can't start where he left off. Lashley accomplished a lot during his brief WWE tenure, but he never won a Royal Rumble. The 2017 edition could be his for the taking.
7 Jeff Hardy
When it comes to the most popular wrestlers in the WWE in the past decade, Jeff Hardy's name would be near the top of the list. The former three-time World Champion hasn't been with the company since 2009, but the timing seems just right for a return of the "Charismatic Enigma." After suffering from personal problems, Jeff seems to have his life back on track. The current company that he works for, TNA, is on shaky ground at best. If Jeff wants to get a steady paycheck, the WWE is the best option.
The crowd would go absolutely insane if Jeff Hardy returned at the Royal Rumble. He may not be the same gravity defining wrestler as he was during his prime, but he would still be a more than credible Royal Rumble winner. Jeff has headlined many WWE pay-per-views before, but never a WrestleMania. If Hardy can win the Rumble and go on to headline WrestleMania 33, it would be a perfect way to cap off his career.
Batista's last return to the WWE in 2014 did not go as smoothly as it was originally planned. The downfall of his return actually occurred at the 2014 Royal Rumble. The WWE was pushing Batista as a big babyface, but when he won the Rumble he was heavily booed. This had more to do with the fact that fan favorite Daniel Bryan wasn't even in the match and less about Batista winning it. Even still, the WWE would probably think twice before ever letting Batista win another Rumble. Would Batista be a believable Royal Rumble winner? Without a doubt. Would fans be happy to see him get his third Rumble victory? Probably not.
What's also keeping from Batista from making a return to the ring is his acting career. While his acting career is nowhere near as busy as someone like The Rock, he still gets enough steady roles that will keep him out of the ring. At this point, another return seems unlikely for "The Animal," but the Royal Rumble is a match known for its surprises.
5 The Rock
The Rock stopped wrestling full-time in 2004, but it wouldn't a huge shock if made an appearance in the Royal Rumble match. He has made numerous returns to the WWE since 2004. While most of these appearances have been in a non-wrestling capacity, when has wrestled, it's been in main even matches. The Rock wouldn't be out of place if he once again headlined WrestleMania.
The main problem with The Rock winning the Rumble is the fact that he is one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. The chances of The Rock having the time to go on a sustained championship run seem very slim at this point in his career. Even if it is only a one match return for "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment," he is sure to put a ton of butts in the seats come WrestleMania time.
4 Finn Bálor
Of all the wrestlers on this list, Finn Bálor is probably the most predictable person to win the next Royal Rumble, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In recent years there have been predictable winners like Roman Reigns and Triple H, but the difference is that fans would actually want to see Bálor win. He paid his dues wrestling in Japan as well as spending three years developing in NXT.
The first ever WWE Universal Champion has been out of action since suffering a shoulder injury back at SummerSlam. It was initially expected that Bálor would be out of action until February or March at the earliest, but it wouldn't be the first time a Superstar makes an early return from injury to appear at the Royal Rumble. If Bálor wins, the WWE wouldn't have to do much work storyline wise either, as he would be simply going after a title he never lost in the first place.
3 The Undertaker
The Undertaker might not be in the same situation as other returning wrestlers on this list, as technically he hasn't really left the WWE. However, when you wrestle one match a year like The Undertaker, every time he comes back for a match, calling it a return isn't too much of a stretch.
The Undertaker last had a match against Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32. To say that wasn't " The Deadman's" best match would be an understatement. It's hard to imagine The Undertaker recently announced that he is back to collect souls, so it seems as though 'Taker will be around in a least a part-time role. The culmination of The Undertaker's career would start with a Royal Rumble victory. He could then go to the main event of WrestleMania and win the title. Two nights later on SmackDown Live, he could vacate the title and retire. Now that is how a legend like The Undertaker deserves to retire.
2 Kurt Angle
It' seems like ever since Kurt Angle left the WWE for TNA in 2006, there have been constant rumors of his return to the company. Now that Angle is no longer with TNA, those rumors of his return should come to a reality sooner than later. Angle might not be a spring chicken anymore at the age of 47, but with the way the keeps his body in shape, he should have at least a couple solid years of wrestling left in him.
The WWE wouldn't be wasting their time by giving Angle the Rumble win. He still is more than capable of being in the main event of WrestleMania, at least one more time. Angle doesn't have to win the title at WrestleMania, at this point in his career he probably doesn't have any problem letting younger get talent over. There are also countless wrestlers on the WWE roster who fans would love to see Angle square off against for the first time.
1 Shawn Michaels
Now that Goldberg has made his return to the WWE (and will compete in the Rumble), there is no Superstar that the fans are dying to see come back more than "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. Although he retired from the ring back in 2010, there is no doubting the fact that he can still go. This is evident from his appearance at WrestleMania 32. Michaels appeared in a segment with fellow legends "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mick Foley. Out all the three men, Michaels was that one that didn't seem to belong, and that was a good thing. While Foley and Austin came out in street clothes, Michaels came out in his old ring attire and looked like he was in the best shape of his life.
If Shawn Michaels' entrance music does hit during the Royal Rumble, you can bet his hometown crowd would be absolutely deafening. They would be even louder if he actually managed to win the thing. He would also have an opponent already set up at WrestleMania in the current WWE Champion A.J. Styles. The "Phenomenal One" recently teased on his Twitter account that he wanted to face Michaels at the Royal Rumble. While the two of them facing off at the Rumble would be amazing, them battling out a WrestleMania would be truly special.
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